Motherhood is many emotions and adventures. It is laughter and tears—sometimes simultaneously. It is watching with wonder as your child goes from holding their head up for several seconds to standing up in their crib to taking their first steps to—seemingly suddenly—going to high school.
Motherhood also is many lessons. We learn how we want to mother. We learn what matters. We learn the things we’ve forgotten. Below, several moms share the invaluable lessons they’ve learned.
Perspective is everything. According to psychotherapist Shonda Moralis, LCSW, we can resist that mothering is full of challenges, unpredictability and regular interruptions, or we can relent. As someone who loves planning and efficiency, Moralis finds that relenting is not easy. But it’s actually less stressful. Because clinging to what should be requires a great deal of mental and physical energy.
“Whether repeated disruptions, sleep deprivation, or yet another spill to clean, I have adopted this useful trick: I replace ‘I have to’ with ‘I get to.’ I get to change his diaper; I get to soothe her back to sleep after a nightmare; I get to wake up at the crack of dawn with the little early riser.”
This perspective shift helps Moralis be less frustrated and less resentful. It helps her reconnect to the bigger picture: the immense privilege of motherhood.
There is magic in this world. Everywhere. “Seeing my son’s face light up when he experiences anything brand new—often things I don’t even think twice about anymore—has opened up my eyes and my world to magic and awe again,” said Parijat Deshpande, a perinatal wellness counselor who specializes in working with women during a high-risk pregnancy.
Raising her son is helping Deshpande to slow down in a fast-paced world that focuses on more, more, more. It’s helping her to appreciate the small things with curiosity and wonder.
For instance, before her son was born, Deshpande hated rain. But today, thanks to him, she finds it magical. “He just sits and watches the rain fall and is so mesmerized by the fact that water just falls from the sky.” She’s also started listening to music differently. Because her son asks about the various instruments in a song, Deshpande now picks up on parts she never would’ve paid attention to earlier.
“He’s also very advanced in math and reading. The other day he was trying to figure out what 6+7 was. And then he realized that 8+5 is also 13. So he came to me and said, ‘Did you know 6+7=13 and 8+5=13? Wow. That’s great.’ It was like he had discovered some huge secret of the world, and the look on his face was priceless. Just total wonder and awe. It was so cool!”
You can’t control it all. According to Sarah Turner, a blogger and author of the book The Unmumsy Mom, this is the most important lesson she’s learned. Before having children, Turner felt fairly in control of every area in her life, including work, home and her relationships. After having her first son, she tried to control routines and schedules. But she soon realized that kids are unpredictable and those plans often have to change—at the last minute.
“By the time I became a mum for the second time, I had started to let go of that desire to have things ‘just so,’’’ she said. “[A]nd by relinquishing that control, I found I became a lot more relaxed. It turns out that going with the flow is nowhere near as scary as I’d imagined.”
It’s important to let go. “The hardest and most important lesson I’ve had to learn is to let go and let my kids make their own mistakes,” said Therese Borchard, a mental health writer and founder of Project Hope & Beyond, an online community for individuals with treatment-resistant depression and other chronic mood disorders, as well as their loved one who want to better understand them. “That’s how they learn. I want so badly to shield them from suffering, but recognize that it is the pain in my life that is the greatest teacher.”
It’s important to acknowledge your successes. “I celebrate small daily successes by offering myself lots of Mommy high-fives for all of the things taken for granted as manager of my family, home and work,” said Moralis, also author of the book Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms. This includes everything from remembering the dental appointment to keeping calm in a heated situation to “keeping the kids alive for one more day.” “They are motivating reminders of all that I do.”
Mindfulness is a lifesaver. Moralis has learned to create mini self-care moments throughout the day “to replenish my caregiving reserves.” She calls these “mindful breaks.” These breaks help her to calm her mind and body, practice patience and identify the subtle signs of stress. Plus, this greater awareness helps Moralis choose her response in a challenging situation instead of reacting automatically.
“I take mindful breaks with my coffee, while waiting in line at the grocery store, even while washing the dishes. Taking a few deep breaths, I notice the smell, taste, and warmth of the coffee; the tight muscles in my shoulders and furrowed brow as I relax them; and the warm, soapy water as it cascades over my hands.”
Mindfulness also helps Moralis savor seemingly ordinary parenting moments (which are really anything but). “These seemingly everyday, insignifiant occasions are the ones we most relish in hindsight. One of my sweetest memories is sitting on the deck of a ferry, saltwater wind in my hair, gazing out at the vast ocean, cradling my beloved 5-year-old girl against my heart as the steady din lulls her to sleep in my arms. That little girl is now a full-grown 15-year-old, and I am profoundly grateful for the memory.”
Motherhood is many different things to many different women. Along the way, we pick up lessons that make mothering easier. We pick up lessons that make our lives richer. We pick up lessons that help us to see the world and maybe even ourselves anew.
Check out the first part of this series here. And stay tuned for the last part with more lessons.